Calling for a new era of cooperation and a $1 billion boost in school spending, Gov. Rick Scott told legislators Tuesday that better times are ahead for Florida.
My fellow Floridians, Im here today to tell you that promise and opportunity will return, in fact are returning even as we meet here today," Scott said in his State of the State address at the Capitol.
Sounding the theme, "Let's Get to Work ... Together," the first-term governor recounted, Last session, together we made the changes necessary to improve the opportunities for the citizens of our state.
"Education, pension and Medicaid reforms coupled with government reorganization and deregulation have all helped to produce jobs, save taxpayer money, improve the education of our children and bring down the cost of living for all Floridians."
Taking the message of cooperation a step further this year, Scott said, No person, profession or party has a monopoly on all the good ideas. The commitment I make to those here today is to keep open, clear lines of communication so that together our time in the Capitol can best be spent in the service of those who sent us here."
After holding the line on education spending last year, Scott pledged more money for K-12 schools as part of an overall goal to upgrade the quality of life in Florida.
Id like to focus on what I believe are the three most important jobs I have as your governor:
"One, ensuring that Floridians are able to gain employment.
"Two, securing the right of every Floridian to a quality education.
"Three, keeping the cost of living low, so that the families and businesses that are in our state can prosper and grow, and the ones that arent have even more reasons to get here soon.
After traveling the state and listening to parents, teachers and our students, I heard one thing very clearly, over and over. Floridians truly believe that support for education is the most significant thing we can do to ensure both short-term job growth and long-term economic prosperity.
Thats why this session I ask you to continue your commitment to education. My recommended budget includes $1 billion in new state funding for education [and] I ask you to please consider that recommendation very carefully. On this point, I just cannot budge," the governor insisted.
Scott pre-empted any notion of raising taxes to increase school funding or to balance the state's budget.
What government gives to one person necessarily had to be taken from the pocket of someone else," the former health care executive said. "There is something arrogant and overreaching in thinking we have the superior wisdom to micromanage the economy."
Recalling his early days as a doughnut shop owner, Scott said he learned that Taxes and regulations are the great destroyers of capital and time for small businesses."
"Almost every dollar I earned as a shop owner went toward growing our little doughnut shops. So, every dollar taken in taxes slowed that growth. Almost every minute I had in the day also went toward growing our small business. So, every minute spent addressing some new regulation also slowed that growth, the governor said.
Bringing his fiscally conservative, business-oriented agenda to Tallahassee last year, Scott and the GOP-dominated Legislature cut $4 billion in state spending and downsized government. Scott indicated that further tax reductions in the form of business tax cuts would be welcome this session.
Recounting accomplishments of the past 12 months, and issuing a status report on his pledge to generate 700,000 jobs over seven years, Scott declared, Floridians, not government, created almost 135,000 new private-sector jobs. We netted more than 120,000 total jobs in the first 11 months of 2011, the third most of any state in the nation.
Scott received thunderous and sustained applause from lawmakers when he stated, "Having spent decades in business and now a year in government, I'm convinced more than ever that with few exceptions, the best thing government can do is to create a level playing field for all competitors, and then get out of the way."
Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, noted that Scott and the Legislature adopted $2.25 billion of the $3.5 billion in budget cuts proposed by his Tallahassee-based organization.
"I don't expect it will be difficult to find $1 billion more for education," Calabro predicted. The key, he added, will be to ensure that the additional money is tied to performance.
"Just because you spend more money doesn't mean you get better student achievement," Calabro said. "I fully expect some appropriate performance requirements will be part of this."
Jaryn Emhof, spokeswoman at Jeb Bush's education-reform think tank, Foundation for Florida's Future, hailed Scott's "commitment to keep improving education a priority."
"Two significant aspects of the $1 billion increase include an increase in funding for two very successful reform programs -- Floridas command focus on reading and the School Recognition Program.
"We look forward to continuing to work with Governor Scott and the Legislature to keep education in Florida a model for the nation," Emhof said.
The state's largest teacher union, the Florida Education Association, did not respond to Sunshine State News' request for comment.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.